Penn commit’s coach heaps praise

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South Carolina shooting guard Matt Howard (white jersey) gave his verbal commitment to Penn last Wednesday. (Photo: C. Aluka Berry/The State)

Tyler Sablich (@TySablich)

While recent University of Pennsylvania commit Matt Howard has the complete skill set to thrive as a college basketball player, A.C. Flora (S.C.) HS coach Leon Brunson says it’s his mental capacity that sets him apart from others.

“He has the ability to grasp things so quickly,” Brunson said. “And that quality has allowed him to evolve into a true leader.”

His decision last Wednesday to attend Penn also speaks volumes, says Brunson. Not only did Howard feel a connection to the program and the Quaker’s head coach Jerome Allen, but Brunson says it was important to Howard that the school he attended fit him academically as well.

“He wanted to be in an environment that promoted academics as well as athletics,” Brunson said. “When Penn got involved, that really opened my eyes.”

Howard, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound shooting guard, declined to take offers from bigger market schools such as Stanford and Virginia Tech in favor of Penn’s Ivy League academic program. Howard is ranked as the sixth best player in South Carolina, according to ESPN.com.

“Matt is a very coachable young man,” Brunson said. “He’s extremely athletic. He likes going up on two dribbles, which is really a college asset. He is a tremendous asset all-around.”

Howard, who is said to heavily depend on his jump shot, will join a group of Quakers guards that is led by Miles Cartwright at the beginning of the 2013-14 campaign. After losing Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernardini following the 2011-12 season, Penn’s backcourt is looking a lot thinner than it did a year ago, though a lot of young pieces could emerge between now and August 2013. Rosen, an All-American and Ivy League Player of the Year during his tenure as a Quaker, led the squad with 18.2 points per game and 5.2 assists per game as a senior. Bernardini was second on the team in scoring, averaging 12.2 points per game.

With his commitment, Howard became the third member of Penn’s 2013 class, joining California center Dave Winfield, Jr. and Atlanta point guard Tony Bagtas.

Although Howard will depart from South Carolina following the 2012-13 season, Brunson says he hopes the two won’t lose contact. Brunson says that, when he took the job at A.C. Flora, Howard immediately became “one of his guys.”

“When I first got here three years ago, he was just a young sophomore,” Brunson said. “I knew from day one that he had a lot of potential. He’s really grown up to be one hell of a man, I’ll tell you that much.”

Not only was the recruiting process an experience for Howard, says Brunson, but it was also something he’ll never forget as a coach.

“It was one of those very rare moments that you cherish as a coach,” Brunson said. “Of course, every coach wants their players to go on to bigger and better things. It was one of those things where I was really lucky enough to meet a lot of people throughout the whole process.”

The sharp-minded Howard, upon making his decision, tweeted that Penn “wanted me the most.” Because Howard wanted to go Ivy League over the big market likes of the Pac-12 and ACC, consider it a perfect fit.

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